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Estate Donates $120 Million to Fund Cancer Research

By Liz Kowalczyk

The estate of a wealthy New York businessman who died in 1992 is donating $120 million of his real estate fortune to six cancer research organizations, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. The six recipients will get $20 million each this year and millions more in future years.

The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, which was established by shipping tycoon Daniel K. Ludwig, planned to announce the gift Tuesday.

Board members of the nonprofit foundation said they have asked the six institutions to abide by several stipulations: to collaborate on research projects, and study how cancer spreads throughout the body. Ninety percent of cancer patients die from metastasis, instead of the original tumor. They also urge the researchers to choose daring, high-risk projects that might not win traditional government funding.

The gift makes Ludwig the largest private source of cancer research funding at MIT, and is one of Dana-Farber’s larger gifts.

Each of the six recipients – which also include Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and the University of Chicago – will decide which research projects to fund with their share of the money.

The Ludwig Institute also is giving the institutions a 35 percent ownership share in two large Manhattan office buildings, which they can sell after 2013, with the hospitals and universities keeping their profit.

Executives at Ludwig Institute said they do not know the dollar value of the buildings, but expect the profit, along with this year’s donation, to provide an endowment large enough to generate $2 million for each institution per year indefinitely.

Ludwig “felt cancer was one of the great unmet challenges and he was a man who never shirked from unmet challenges,” said the institute’s board chairman, Dr. Lloyd Old, a renowned cancer researcher at Sloan-Kettering. Ludwig decided to bequeath his money for cancer research although he had no apparent history of cancer in his family, said another board member and president of the Ludwig Institute, Edward McDermott Jr. Ludwig died of heart failure at age 95.

In recent years, researchers have begun to understand more about the biological and genetic underpinnings of metastasis, increasing hopes that they will discover drugs to stop the deadly process. This makes the timing of the Ludwig gift particularly fortuitous, said Robert Weinberg, a biology professor at MIT and one of the researchers who will benefit from the grant.

“We understand a lot about how cancer cells escape the primary tumor and spread to distant sites,” he said. “What we don’t understand is when they spread, how they gain a foothold in this distant tissue. This is last frontier of basic cancer research.”

One question researchers are grappling with, said Dr. Dirk Iglehart, a surgeon and researcher at Dana-Farber, is whether cancers change in subtle but important ways before or after they have spread to new sites in the body.